The Natural Building Centre

Y Ganolfan Adeiladu Naturiol.

The History of Plas Tirion

During the 17th century Plas Tirion was in the ownership of the Wynnes of Voylas (Voelas), to whom the house and land still belong. From the heraldic evidence in the plasterwork of 1628, through many documents and maps, it is clear Plas Tirion has always been an important house and farm on the estate from the 17th century to the present day.

Photos 2013 311Sometimes a dower house, but more often a prosperous farm, this was one of many Voelas estate properties in the Ty-brith and Garthgarmon townships of Llanrwst Parish.  There is little change in the mapped details of the property between the first accurate survey by John Mathews in 1813, to the Tithe Maps of 1840 and the Ordnance survey map of 1875.

However, the origins of the house are still uncertain.  No documentary evidence has been found which mentions the building of the house or even the name of an earlier property, or owner, on the same site.  Research continues into earlier land grants to the Wynnes of Voylas by Henry VIII and Elizabeth I, linked to the former Abbey lands of Aberconwy, and it is hoped that some answers may be found.

The Berth-ddu connection

“Large late C16 house of manorial scale and quality, originally conceived as an E plan. One of a small number of gentry satellite houses built locally in the second half of the C16th for junior branches of the Wynn family of Gwydir: others include Berth Ddu and Cae Melwr.

Interior cosmetic alterations appear to have been carried out between 1626 and 1628 for Robert Wynn and his wife Katherine;  Robert (d.1640) was High Sheriff of Denbighshire in 1618. Five heraldic plasterwork over-mantles dating from this intervention survive, together with some contemporary small field panelling; some of which has been repositioned. (Extract from listing letter)

A first priority when researching the history of Plas Tiron was to check whether the RW and KW initials on the interior plasterwork did refer to the Robert and Katherine Wynne mentioned above.

This Robert Wynne, who was High Sheriff of Denbighshire in 1618 (Nichols, T, 1872), was the son of Hugh Wynne of the nearby property of Berth- ddu.  The father had been High Sheriff in 1609, but his extravagance in developing the house and estate of Bodysgallen, near Llandudno, which he had gained through marrying the heiress of the Mostyn family, led to the family being passed over for that office in 1633.  There is no evidence that his son Robert was ever involved in Plas Tirion, although he did marry a Katherine Griffith of Trefarthen, Anglesey.  He was always known as Robert of Berthu or Bodyscallen, and was buried at Llanrwst in 1640.

His son, Hugh Wynne II (1620-1674), known as Colonel Hugh Wynne from his support of the royalist cause in the Civil War, inherited a heavily encumbered estate.  The financial problems continued for his son, Robert Wynne II (b 1655) and were commented on in letters to Lady Grace Wynn of Gwydir in 1675. It seems unlikely that the family had any interest in Plas Tirion except as neighbouring gentry.

The Gwydir Connection

Contemporary correspondence reveals that Richard Wynn, (subsequently Sir Richard, the fourth Gwydir baronet) was living here in the years 1657-9. In 1658 he served as High Sheriff of Caernarvonshire; the following year he took part in the Royalist revolt known as Boothe’s Rebellion……”

During the unsettled period of the Civil war and the Commonwealth (1640-1660) there are several letters written from Plas Tirion by Richard Wynn of Gwydir to his mother, Lady Grace Wynn. But more of their letters during this period came from the house of Cae melwr, a few miles north on the outskirts of Llanrwst.  This was a frequent residence for Lady Grace Wynn after her son succeeded to the baronetcy in 1660, and after his death in 1674.  Letters show that, around 1656-58, Richard Wynn was living in some fear of arrest, and was moving from house to house in North Wales rather than staying at his property near London.  Plas Tirion is mentioned amongst several houses used by the Wynns of  Gwydir  during this difficult period.

Further mentions of Plas Tirion are found in the correspondence of Lady Grace Wynn and her grandaughter after 1675.  They concern a long-standing dispute about the collection of Llanrwst tithes, and have a ‘Mistress Wynne’ of Plas Tirion opposing the Gwydir interest, letters 2232-2844) .  This Mistress Wynne is almost certainly the ‘Jane Wynne of Plastirion’ in a will dated 1684.   She was the second wife of Robert Wynne of Voylas, who is mentioned in a deed of 1681 as ‘Robert Wynne of Plastirion’ (3).  Her step-son,  Cadwaldr Wynne, is named as the owner of Plas Tirion on the first land tax roll for the parish of Llanrwst in 1692.

There is no documentary evidence in the Wynn of Gwydir papers (ed. Ballinger ) which mentions Plas Tirion before 1657, but the house was available for Sir Richard Wynn to use between 1657-9.  Relations between the Wynnes of Voylas and the Wynns of Gwydir seem to have cooled in the 1670’s when Plas Tirion was clearly used by Robert Wynne of Voylas and his second wife.

Heraldic Evidence from the plasterwork of 1626-28.

glass and fireplace 013The listing statement suggests that the five well-preserved plasterwork over-mantle decorations  refer to Robert Wynne of Berth-ddu and his wife Katherine in 1626-28.  But the contemporary Robert Wynne of Voylas also married a Catherine.  His first wife was Catherine, daughter of William Wynne of Melai, and already the widow of Ffoulke Lloyd of Hafodunos, who had died in the 1620s (Griffith 1914.)  We have no date for the marriage, but there is documentary evidence of a settlement, whereby Catherine brought dower land from her first marriage to add to the existing Voylas land in these townships.

All the nine emblems on the main shield over the fireplace in the upstairs parlour, together with the crest above the shield and the motto, are all linked to the Wynnes of Voylas.   One of the exciting moments of this research was to find, half-hidden on the top ledge of a memorial to Robert’s son, Cadwaldr, in Conwy church, the exact words of the motto in the upstairs hall  – “Singula in uno”.  This a mis-spelling of the Voelas family motto “ Cingula in uno”, (girdled together).  Thus the RW initials on the plasterwork are almost certainly those of Robert Wynne of Voylas mentioned above.  He was born in 1598/9; was the High Sheriff of Denbighshire in 1631 and 1664; and died in the 1680s.

Catherine’s family are also commemorated in the shield above the fireplace in the smaller parlour downstairs.  Her father’s distinctive emblem of three boars’ heads, known as ‘Y Penwyn’, matches the gory three Englishmen’s heads of Ednyfed Fychan between the initials RWKW and the date 1626.  Other emblems in the plasterwork of the smaller bedchambers upstairs could be common to both families.

Plas Tirion in the 18th Century

The century began with Robert Wynne’s son, Cadwaldr , as owner and tenant of Plastirion , but by the time he was buried at Conwy in 1719 the Voylas estate was in financial trouble. This was worsened by Chancery Suits under his ‘feckless’son,  Cadwaldr Wynne, who died in 1732,  almost entirely dependent on his wife’s family, the Griffiths of Garn, for his survival. Thereafter, his son, Watkin Wynne, 1717-1774, was forced to sell parts of the estate, and a whole series of complicated legal disputes between trustees and creditors persisted for many years.  In spite of all these problems it seems that Plas Tirion was never sold, and was used by family members, or as a dower house, for most of this period.  Further research through the estate’s legal records in the National Library of Wales may provide more information .

The house is not mentioned in Cadwaldr Wynne’s will of 1732, but the Jane Wynne who made a will in 1771 and described herself as a ‘widow of Plasttirion’, must be his wife. 

Plas Tirion in the early 19th Century

My camera photos 2011-2012 382The first large-scale map which shows details of Plas Tirion is the estate plan by John Mathews in 1813, at a scale of 1:6.360.  Unfortunately, the accompanying reference volume, listing field acreages, crops and tenants, was not available in the National Library, but the owner is named as Charles Wynne Griffith Wynne, the grandson of  Watkin Wynne.  The excellent detail shows the field boundaries and buildings which remained almost unchanged through the Tithe surveys of the 1840s right up to the first OS map in 1875.  The old cottage, between the farm buildings and main house, is very clearly drawn, and different in detail from what is shown on the first OS map.  Of particular interest is the clear depiction of a small farm, Yr Allt, just by the Nebo Road.  This appears in all the rentals, the tithe survey and censuses throughout the century, but by 1913 it had disappeared from the OS Map, and its land was absorbed into the Plas Tirion holding.

An estate rental of 1812/13 shows the Plas Tirion tenant as William Griffith, and his rent of £205 was by far the highest of all the estate farms listed.  In his will of 1826, William is described as a gentleman, owning several other farms and a mill in the local area.  It is possible that his daughter’s children – the Evans family – were the tenants at Plas Tirion at the time of the tithe survey and throughout the rest of the century.

Before William’s death, another will mentioning Plas Tirion was made by an Ann Knight, widow, in 1815.  She may have been the widow of an earlier tenant, a housekeeper for William Griffith, a relative of the Wynne family, or perhaps living in the other small house on the site.

By 1831, the tenant was John Griffith, probably the son of William Griffith mentioned above.  By then the rent had fallen to £160.  Both William and John Griffith were also tenants of Ffridd Fawr, part of Tyn y ffridd holding.  This has not been identified, but probably lay outside the township of Ty Brith Isaf (the area of Llanrwst parish below the Nebo road).

One unanswered question during this period is the circumstances in which the main barn was rebuilt in 1837.  This is commemorated by a prominent date stone and was a major building project.

From the Tithe Map of 1840 to 1913

The quality of the Tithe Map copies seen for this study were very poor compared to John Mathews’ survey of 1813.  The position of the main house is slightly wrong, but the general position of boundaries and buildings remain unchanged since 1813.  The Apportionment Schedule gives an interesting picture of a large farm with arable fields on each side of the public highway to Llanrwst.  In addition to the arable fields around the main farm there were also fields of permanent (’old’) pasture by the River Conwy.  The total acreage was 82 acres, but the Ffridd Fawr holding, already mentioned, had 103 acres of additional arable land.  The landlord was still Charles Wynne Griffith Wynne of Voelas, and the tenant John Evans – confirmed by the 1841 census.

The 1851 census gives a picture of an active family farm of 180 acres:  John Evans, head of the household, a widower aged 48; two daughters aged 20 and 22; two teenage sons, aged 15 and 17; a 4-year old granddaughter from Wrexham; a 35 year old house servant; and a young farm lad aged 17.  His gentleman neighbour was the 91 year old Thomas Blackwell, living at Hendre House, with his 65 year old daughter, and a full staff of housekeeper, cook, house maid, dairy maid and footman.  Yr Allt or Allt bach, the small 20 acre farm above Plas Tirion, was home to 78 year old William Williams and his 53 year old wife.

By the 1861 census, John Evans had handed over the farm to his son John, aged 25, married to Grace and with two small children.  The son is recorded as farming only 80 acres.

By 1881, John Evans was 45 years old, had a family of 6 children, and farmed 140 acres with the help of his sons and two farm servants.

Two important Ordnance Survey maps show changes between 1875 and 1913 (Figures 7 and 8).  The first map shows excellent detail for the house, cottage and farm buildings, with traces of a formal garden in front of the house, and more woodland behind the house towards the stream.  The small Allt Bach farm by the Nebo road is clearly seen.  By 1913, this small farm has disappeared and there are far fewer trees.  Another difference between the OS maps and the Tithe map is that the main road to Llanrwst has been straightened at some time, taking out the previous kink at the entrance to Plas Tirion.

The National Library of Wales have a few documents relating to Plas Tirion during this period. In 1860 a survey was made for a railway to cross the land by the river, but in the end, the line was built on the other side of the Conwy.  There is a detailed plan from 1890 for a new cart shed so that the existing open cart shed could be converted to a cattle byre.  The pillars supporting the old cart shed bays can still be seen in the walls of the renovated building; and the ‘new’ cart shed is now been converted to the office and showroom of the Natural Building Centre.

Plas Tirion in the 1920s

004A rather poignant series of letters, dated 1925 – 28 can be seen in the estate records at the National Library.  They are written by a Mrs Ida Jones on behalf of her husband, Hugh Jones about giving up the tenancy.  Of factual interest is the plea for help with repairs to the house: the floors are bad, and the gutters letting water into the rooms, so there is no chance for Mrs Jones to take guests.  There is also discussion about the future of the milk round, which had obviously been built up into a valuable business: this implies that Plas Tirion was probably a working dairy farm, and that some of the alterations to the farm buildings may date from this period.

There are also some documents that list prospective tenants to take over from Mr. Jones – a frank, and interesting picture of the competition for the tenancy of a valuable farm, and the care the estate took to get the right person .